Sashanka S. Das, 4028, B.A. (H), English, IInd year
Q. Write on John Dryden’s ‘Mac Flecknoe’ as a satire.
A. John Dryden’s Mac Flecknoe, as part of his corpus of satirical verse, is a short piece, and not as overtly political as, say, Absalom and Achitophel. It does aim to censure through indirect ridicule rather than direct condemnation, but, being a censorious poem directed specifically at an individual subject, Dryden’s literary rival Thomas Shadwell, it seems more a lampoon, as defined in Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary, than a proper, high satire. The object of this essay will be, therefore, to locate Mac Flecknoe, in the tradition of late 17th-century satire. Mac Flecknoe revolves around the succession of Richard
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Dryden also uses other innovative strategies to heighten the poem’s satirical effect. There is use of direct satirical imagery dressed as praise, which is ironic when seen as a whole – in Father Flecknoe’s final speech, everything from Shadwell’s alleged plagiarism to his girth is ridiculed through images. Another is the sophisticated combination of literary allusion and obscene innuendo. An example is the ‘subterranean wind’ of the poem’s penultimate couplet, which unites an allusion to the volcanoes of Hell in Paradise Lost and a persistent scatological undertone. The object of this strategy is to incorporate into the poem the sting of vulgarity without seeming offensive, and neo-classical literary erudition without seeming pedantic. Mac Flecknoe is thus both more heterogeneous in its subject matter and more complex in its craftsmanship than the ordinary railing lampoon, of the type of Shadwell’s The Medal of John Bayes. The geniality with which it approaches its subject also precludes any coarseness of personal assault or tediousness; this also raises it to the level of genuine comedy. It is also remarkable for the coalescence of its major thematic concerns – literary, political and religious – into a unified, balanced whole. Satire is fundamentally a